When is a tunic a tunic?

In search of autumnal inspiration

Following a meeting earlier this month we wandered off into a nearby city centre, mostly just to digest a morning of intense discussion in the aftermath of a heavy cold. We’ll readily confess to not being at all systematic or focused – just casting a wandering eye for inspiration, tempered with minimum expectation. Aware of their recent efforts to turn around their higher-end-of-the-High-Street offering over the last few seasons, we found ourselves meandering around the rails at a branch of Jigsaw.

Drawn by a checked wool fabric draped over the end of a hanger, we were intrigued to come across a number of wool and boucle dresses. We dug in, relieved to find garments that were neither frumpy nor tacky; shaped – yet not too tight – nor for that matter, floral, scuba, wishy-washy or plain black (which seemed to be the case everywhere else that day). This is an example of what we found.

Jigsaw tunic idea
Checked tunic by Jigsaw

Aware that we were behaving rather like a very grumpy Goldilocks, a bit of riffling and a raised eyebrow later we’d found an armful of simple dresses and tunics we actually quite liked the look of. They were in a variety of wool-content fabrics, from tweed to flannel and boucle. Naturally, none of them fitted properly (not particularly Jigsaw’s fault – just how it is) and oddly, some of them weren’t lined (not always a pre-requisite but it can help). But a seed was planted.

One glazed-eye train journey later and – augmented by some pattern research – we’d determined that our next make would be a wool tunic. Easy to wear and move in; dress it up or down or layer it over opaque tights, leggings or even trousers. We’ve often suggested that a particular fabric would work well as a tunic – so as the weather is definitely turning and a certain winter wardrobe is looking a little sparse, this was the moment.

But what is a tunic?

So far, so good – however as we worked our way through many, many sewing pattern pages and solicited opinions from various correspondents, we found ourselves wondering – what, actually, is a tunic?  We tried searching for ‘tunic’ on shop and pattern sites. At ClothSpot we tend to group ‘tunics’ with ‘dresses’ – and so, it seems does everyone else. And as we searched, we wondered – at what point did a tunic become a shift dress, a shirt dress or a trapeze dress? Was a tunic really a top? Must it have pockets? Aware that at this point we may have been over-thinking the issue (no, really…?) we decided it might be time to turn to one of our favourite online resources.

If you’re ever in need of a little diversion over a lunchtime sandwich, we can recommend a trawl through the Costume section of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus. It’s not an obvious bestseller, but with over 350,000 terms, it’s a great place to settle an argument. A fabulous resource if you’re a costume history fiend, it’s also stuffed with fascinating facts. For instance – did you know that a ‘jumper’ in the US is the same as a ‘pinafore’ in the UK? And have you any idea of the confusions that arise with terms such as  ‘vests’, ‘pants’ and ‘Y-fronts’ across the Atlantic?  Aside from that, it tells us that technically, tunics are:

“…simple slip-on garments made with or without sleeves and usually knee-length or longer and belted at the waist…also, garments extending from the neckline to the waist or longer, usually high-necked and worn over other garments.”
 

Reluctantly we decided that perhaps this was an occasion where the AAT wasn’t going to help (plus, we realise we’re at risk of being un-invited from any up-coming dinner parties…). It turns out that everywhere else on the internet concurs that a tunic should be above the knee and loose-fitting. In addition to this, we determined that we had some (admittedly subjective) key criteria as follows:

– A simple cut
– Sleeves (otherwise it would be a pinafore, right?) Plus, it’s cold out there.
– A semi-fitted style with some suggestion of shape
– No waist seam (or if there is, then not so ‘nipped in’ as to prevent free movement.

We wanted something that was at least a little fitted, since in our case, a dress that starts at a pair of broad shoulders and then hangs, is going to resemble a tent rather then an elegant garment. Believe us, we’ve been there – much as we love styles such as this Issey Miyake number, it’s not for us…

Issey Miyake tunic
Tunic dress by Issey Mikake

So – a zip fastening and probably a couple of darts – or some other form of interesting shaping is on our list.

Pattern ideas

We’re toying with the idea of the Kitty Dress by Maven Patterns

Kitty Dress tunic idea from Maven Patterns
The ‘Kitty’ dress by Maven Patterns

As well as the Ultimate Shift Dress from Sew Over It

Shift dress tunic pattern
‘Ultimate Shift Dress’ by Sew Over It

Neither have zip fastenings (and neither are called tunics!) but we think they have tunic-ing potential – since both incorporate some shaping and have sleeved options.

We were then reminded of McCalls 7014 Pinafore – which also has sleeves which can be attached (thank you, Sarah!)…

McCalls tunic pattern
Pattern 7014 by McCalls

We know that this pattern was completed beautifully by our customer Joan, last year – so that too is a temptation…

Fabric choices, choices…

As for fabrics – we’re eyeing up lots of wools, especially our British-produced ones – a range we’re working on growing this AW16 season and beyond.

Wool for tunic
Click here to view all our wool fabrics

Tweeds such as this fabulously-draping charcoal herringbone are an option…

Charcoal tweed for tunic
‘Northern Sky’ charcoal wool tweed fabric

…and we’re fond of our checks too…

Rust and teal twill for tunic
Rust & teal checked wool twill fabric

…although we love a bit of restrained minimalism too…

Navy blue worsted for tunic
Midnight blue worsted wool fabric

…and more besides!

We’ve pulled together lots more style ideas, patterns and fabric suggestions for tunics in our Tunics Pinterest board – so do drop in there and have a your own meander through. We’d love to hear from you as to which tunic pattern ideas you might have – and please feel free to share your own tunic creations – we’re always grateful for inspiration.

Next week we’ll be revealing our tunic make. We’ll post our progress @ClothSpot on Instagram and Twitter as we go to it – so follow us there – and pop back here on Friday to see what we come up with!

 

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